Queer Cities and Suburban Sin Clubs: Sexual Anxieties in American Scandal and Men's Pulp Magazines of the 1950s and 1960s

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 9:10 AM
Addison Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Tim Retzloff, Yale University
As the rise of postwar suburbs reshaped the American metropolis, scandal and men’s pulp magazines of the era became preoccupied with sex, gay and straight, in both suburb and city, serving as important yet largely unexplored cultural conduits of space and sexuality.  Such titles as The Lowdown, Whisper, Vice Squad, and Off the Record Secrets, as well as Escape to Adventure, Man to Man, Sir!, and Men’s Adventure exploited sex to reach a cumulative newsstand audience of thirty-five million readers at their peak.  Often overlooked by scholars, these lowbrow publications depicted suburbs as heterosexual and homosexuals as urban, and thus provide historians with a lens to a highly sexualized mid-century America absent from mainstream print and broadcast media.

This paper examines how scandal and men’s pulp articles like “Sex and the 6:39” from 1956 and “Split-Level Tramps of Suburbia” from 1961 reflected and conveyed heightened anxiety over suburban heterosexual infidelity, while articles like “The Shame of New York’s Times Square” from 1951 and “The Lesbian Colony of Greenwich Village” from 1959 perpetuated an worrisome image of the city as sleazy, dangerous, and queer.  At the same time that purveyors of sensationalism constructed dichotomies of suburb and city and concomitant binaries of heterosexual and homosexual, they also attempted to grapple with suburban homosexuality that wasn’t supposed to be there.  Scandal and men’s pulp magazines thus presented mixed messages of queer menace and sexual ambiguity, as in a 1957 exposť “Lesbians in Exurbia,” and a 1962 article “Homosexual Husbands and How They Get That Way!,” framing lesbians and gay men in terms familiar to anticommunists and science fiction fans alike: as either threats from outside or lurking within.